Farewell My Friend
Recently I said good-bye to one of the toughest patients we've ever loved at Dale City Animal Hospital. Little Julie came to us when she was just days old, her eyes not even open to see the compassionate and worried faces of myself and my coworkers. Her mother's pregnancy had somehow not been apparent to her owner until Julie and her litter mates were born. Without getting too judgy, the care and observation skills of that person didn't improve even after there was this squirming mass of babies. A piece of thread became wrapped around Julie's back foot and proceeded over a few days to cut off the circulation. By the time she came to us, the foot was swollen, cold, and impossible to save; and this little pup was on the brink of life-threatening sepsis. When I explained that the only thing that could possibly save her life was to amputate that leg, the woman was aghast--who would want a three-legged dog, she exclaimed. While no one was exactly looking for such a disabled pet, Andrea, my senior technician, stepped up and adopted her right then. And little Julie found the love of her life in that moment.
Under Andrea and Dr. Davis's skilled hands, and with the support of many others, Julie survived very risky anesthesia and surgery. Andrea and her husband bottle fed, nurtured and comforted her as she recovered and eventually opened her eyes to see her rescuers. As she began to navigate on her little stump, she never looked back. She grew and she thrived.
As she grew up, Julie reluctantly accepted the eventual introduction of two little girls into her life. We all had to work hard with her, behaviorally, to make this fit work. It comes as a surprise to many people that orphaned, bottle raised puppies are often a challenge to properly socialize to people and animals. Julie was a work in progress for years, but she proficiently learned her boundaries. She was opinionated, bossy and sometimes pushy. She was, though, a bundle of hopping wiggliness when she spied her family after even a short separation.
About a year and a half ago, Andrea noted with dread that Julie's lymph nodes were alarmingly enlarged. A biopsy confirmed that she had cancer of the lymphatic system, called lymphoma. We were all saddened, but we could not give up on Julie. She had no idea she was sick, so we researched our treatment options. We generally don't do chemotherapy at our hospitals, preferring to refer those patients to specialists. But with the guidance of a local oncologist and a lot of research, Andrea and I chose a protocol and started down a scary path. We learned we could buy her up to 18 months of time, and that seemed worth it. We administered expensive and dangerous drugs, checking and rechecking and checking again and then again the doses of these very unfamiliar medications. Handling them required extreme care for Julie's wellbeing as well as our own safety. The three of us sequestered ourselves in a room away from the flow of the hospital almost every week for 19 weeks. There we would oh so carefully give intravenous drugs that carried a risk of causing terrible tissue damage if we erred. Julie never ever batted an eye. She totally trusted us, though every week we poked and prodded. And...the lymph nodes went back to normal! We were thrilled. Julie didn't understand the fuss but gladly celebrated with us.
A number of months after completion of the chemotherapy, remission ended. Back to the books and the experts, and we began another round. Similar good hearted reaction from Julie, but the nodes never did return to normal. Andrea and her family made the decision at that point to let Julie guide them. They stopped chemotherapy and enjoyed every day that passed. For many months, she played with the family, enjoyed coming to work as usual, and voraciously ate every morsel of food offered. The all important holiday season came and went, and we felt blessed that she had that time with her family. Every day became a gift. As last week's snow storm approached, Andrea remarked how much Julie loved to play in the snow. And play she did! Saturday was a time of frolicking in the winter storm with the family. And Sunday she stopped eating and told her family she was tired.
Monday morning, Andrea tearfully called me and said it was time. With her family around her, Julie was already slipping away when I administered the kindest medicine I had left in my arsenal. With a caress and a kiss, she left us to cross that Rainbow Bridge. Hopefully on four legs. Thank you for all you brought to us and all you taught us. We will never forget your lessons. We love you, Julie.